Mar 21, 2012

Interview With George Cook

I like to think of George Cook as a sort of beloved spine to the sport of fly fishing. Few others in the industry possess the degree of experience, passion and the willingness to share knowledge for this beloved pastime. George also has a personality that could rival any stand-up comedian, so it was only natural that I was looking forward to our chat.

Resident Alaskan Bow Bow!

First, just a little background on George’s professional career: He got his start working at Kaufman’s Fly Shop in Washington and worked there from 1982-1987. During that time he was also a fly fishing guide in Western Alaska (1983-1985) and he taught a fly fishing class with Dave Engerbretson at Washington State University (1980-1984). After leaving Kaufmans in 1987, he moved on to an in-house position at Sage as Director of Schools and Sporting Shows (1987-1990). From there, he became the Sage product rep for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. He now sits before me with over 22 years experience as a tackle rep in the fly fishing industry.

The first time I met George, I was a greenhorn up in Western Alaska working for a sport fishing lodge. He arrived for a week of fishing and he immediately took me under his wing to show me some of the secrets of the river. I remember how he made me feel significant and how he helped to pave my route towards a guiding career of my own. That was 14 years ago. I can only imagine the number of lives he has touched since then.

He slipped into his seat wearing a cool yet friendly confidence – resembling a man at home in a fly shop.

The Interview

GFS: You are a traveling man, no doubt. Where does the road typically end on a given day?

GC: I make the rounds. Often it ends somewhere in Alaska, Oregon and Washington. I’m currently on number eight of twenty two in Oregon. You know, seeing dealers, giving talks on Spey lines and teaching some Spey classes on the weekends. I just had a class with 11 students on the McKenzie River just the other day. It was a hoot.

GFS: Where is your mind at this very moment?

GC: Well talking to your dumbass. (He laughs – gets a little red faced) Well let me think… uh, yup my mind is right here with you my friend.

GFS: Great. Now that I know I have your attention…Do you recall your first fishing experience?

GC: Sure. I was 6 years old. I was fishing this little creek in Texas with a lure and a Zebco spincasting reel. I must have made about 300 casts before hooking and landing a pretty impressive Warmouth.

GFS: Warmouth?

GC: Yeah, it’s Brim or Blue Gill type of critter. I was with my dad. The first trout I ever landed, I was with my dad on Henry’s Lake in Idaho. It was great… He said, “Alright son, you’ve got 3 more casts and then we're leaving.” Well on my 2nd cast I hooked and reeled in a rather large trout with my Mitchell 300 spinning reel.

GFS: What about fly fishing? How did that take shape?

GC: My first day fly fishing was pretty dreamy. This local guide by the name of Sam Good dropped my 11 year old ass off in Last Chance, Idaho with 6 Green Drakes. My rod was this Shakespeare Wonder Rod - was about a hundred dollar rod built in the 1950’s. I waded out into the Henry’s Fork and that was pretty much the turning point.

GFS: What happened?

GC: Well (he pauses), I most certainly caught some fish that day… And by about 5pm, I had lost the last of my Green Drakes. I had 3 bucks in my pocket so I eased over to Will Godfrey’s fly shop where I bought 2 more Parachute Adams so that I could get back in the game.

GFS: So was that the death of the spinning rod?

GC: Yes. Pretty much.

George doing what George does best.

GFS: Why do you think that fly fishing stuck?

GC: Well that’s a tough one. You know there are whole books that try to answer that very question. I guess when you get right down to it, to me, it just feels like every cast is an adventure.

GFS: You were the director for Sage’s Casting Schools some 20 years ago. And you’re still out there teaching today. What do you get out of this?

GC: It’s fun. I get a great feeling when I see people discover success in a hobby and embark on something that they can spend a lifetime pursuing.

GFS: Do you have any advice for folks who are jumping into the sport?

GC: Yeah, take a class or a guided trip. Learn the fundamentals, test drive some equipment and seek out a pro shop near you. Become a sponge for knowledge with each and every visit.

GFS: So tell me about Far Bank – The home of Sage, Redington and Rio.

GC: Farbank has grown tremendously over the last 10 years with the addition of Redington and Rio to the Sage flagship. They are three brands that play very well together in a harmonic approach for all fly anglers – for all ages and skill levels. Farbank provides solutions for the hardcore angler as well as the occasional angler with a vast line of tackle options. Each brand is very authentic. From the top down, our organization is run by people who fly fish and who are passionate about fly fishing in the outdoors.

GFS: What do you think sets you guys apart from other fly tackle companies?

GC: Well there are many great companies out there. But, our longevity and devotion to detail across a broad range of products cannot be understated. The fact that our tackle is built by fly anglers for fly anglers allows us to build some of the world’s best products for an angling landscape that is local, regional and global.

GFS: Ok, let’s pick out some products – We’ll call them Georgie’s picks –Tackle for the 2012 season that you are most excited about. What comes to mind?

GC: The Sage One single hand rods that were introduced last August offeres up yet another generation of world class fly rods from our “Guru of Graphite,” Jerry Siem. The feedback from anglers has been phenomenal, so we are extremely proud of this new stick. Right now, we are about 100 days away from our next great chapter, this time in the form of our new Sage One Spey and Switch series. The Spey rods will come in sizes, 5 – 10 weight with two length options for the 7 – 10 weights. The Sage One Switch Series will be available in sizes 4 – 8 weight and they will all be 11’ 6”. As seen with the single hand series, all of these rods will have dramatic weight reduction and be capable of building extreme line speed. Their inherent nature for true tracking and flash-like turnover sets these rods a world apart from anything that has ever been brought to the table before. I’ve got one and it’s freakishly light.

GFS: Nice. I guess we have been expecting or hoping that this would happen…

GC: Yea, we’re pretty excited about this one. You know on the subject of Spey, I should also note that we will be adding two rods to our VXP Spey lineup. We will be rounding out this Spey family with the addition of a 5120–4 and an 8136–4.

GFS: This should fill in some gaps for sure. Are there any other rods that you would like to talk about?

GC:  Sure, you know I’m very impressed with the Redington Predator Series. These rods offer incredible value in a family of rods at $250 retail that hit the saltwater market dead on. They can also provide double-duty for freshwater Alaskan species such as Salmon, Pike and Sheefish. Ranging in size from 6 – 14 weights, there is plenty of room in any arsenal for this type of value.

GFS: The way you describe product is typically pretty passionate. Do you really love your job that much?

GC: You bet lad. I do. At the end of the day fly fishing is fun. I like being involved day to day with dealers. I like providing anecdotes to consumers and I love to help people achieve and have a good time. And make no mistake about it, I treasure my time on the water as much as anybody.

GFS: Speaking of good times…Folks that spend any amount of time with you seem to have a good time. Someone’s always got a good George Cook story or quote. I mean you’re pretty entertaining… Would you agree?

GC: Yea, I suppose. I like to make sure there is some comedy involved. I mean there’s no reason why we can’t laugh and have fun. I tend to spend much of my personal time hanging around some real characters – You know, folks that are beyond - belief funny and I guess it must rub off.

GFS: What gives you a good laugh – a solid belly ache per say?

GC: Oh man, just hanging out with these people I guess. Hell, we could have one hell of a reality show if someone would just sign us. We could call it “Rep This… or Spike Camp Bliss!”

GFS: (I’m laughing) Alright, I must bring up your colorful vocabulary. Could you define some of your frequent words for us?

GC: Sure. Like?

GFS: Ok, how about Bow Bow?

GC: Best critter ever. Bow Bow is colorful, likes to grab and always jumps. If only Bonefish could jump, they’d have a shot at the title.

GFS: Critter?

GC: Great term. Played in many ways… For instance most people say fish-on but I just say Critter. It is short, sweet and non-exhausting. Furthermore, Critters like Bow Bow don’t know that you’re talking about them so they don’t get all tear-ass. It also works in hunting in faraway places like Mexico and Africa because everyone there knows that Critter means Critter.

GFS: Kingy?

GC: If you have spent any time battling Kingy, you love Kingy. He is another one of the great swung fly targets on this earth. Me and Kingy have a couple of appointments come June up in Alaska. Kingy should make good use of his time in the salt shoving everything that he can down his pie hole – you know getting ready for the fight coming his way. The new Sage One 10130-4 Spey should bring Kingy to justice.

GFS: (I should note here that these replies are spoken with a noticeable shade of sincerity) OK, Tiddler?

GC: Tiddler. Little guy – Tiddler. Small Critter. They fight too – particularly Baby Bow Bow. Tiddlers are why we build the TXL-F in sizes, 000, 00, 00 weights so as to maximize the fun factory.

GFS: Weaponry?

GC: Rods are Weaponry. And there’s no such thing as too many! (He chuckles)

GFS: Glick?

GC: Beverages. I’m a Martini guy and many people find this a little odd. But that’s really not that odd you know. What’s odd is that I have a 20 plus pound cat at home. I think she’s actually a panther. So yeah, I’m a Martini guy who likes big cats. Once, while on a two day Deschutes trip, the only fish I landed was on a fly that I tied with her tail. I call it the Queen Sheeba.

GFS: Bow Bow or Kingy?

GC: Both are on the hit list. I have appointments with both soon.

GFS: Steak or Fish?

GC: Both. Double down. How could you go wrong?

GFS: Snap T or Single Spey?

GC: Snap T in North America. Single Spey across the Atlantic, so that the Euro doesn’t collapse on us!

Let us not forget Steelhead!

GFS: You are a world renowned spey angler. What is it about spey that is so rewarding?

GC: Oh man, I could devote a thousand words here. I guess this game makes a thinker out of the anadromous fish angler. Each one of these casts has such a beautiful story and the art of the spey cast and the art of the swung fly make such natural partners. I constantly find myself seeking those outings that revolve around the spey and switch process. It’s an extremely efficient and mind-blowing event.

GFS: We have seen quality growth in the spey arena over the past decade. Do you foresee the trend continuing?

GC: Definitely. Over the last 20 years we have seen more progression in spey tackle than the previous 120 years. Over the last 10 years alone, we have seen rods, lines and reels develop at warp speeds. And this not only applies to the spey game but also to the smaller switch series of rods. I think we’ll continue to see the participation and enthusiasm for these methods grow to new levels with every passing year - Not only in the Pacific Northwest, but across the continent in general. A visit to the Annual Sandy River Spey Clave this coming May 18 – 20th will really display the interest level. We’ll see folks from all over North America who come to this Oregon “Spey Mecca” to learn more about spey fishing and to check out equipment.

GFS: Well George, great to spend time with you again. Thanks for filling us in.

GC: Of course lad. We’ll do it again…

GFS: In closing, tell us...Where will your next angling adventure take you?

GC: “Ice Station Zebra.”

GFS: What’s -

GC: Yup, that’s what I said. “Ice Station Zebra.” Rent the movie – it’s got Rock Hudson in it. Early season Bow Bow fishing in Alaska…

And then he was gone – onto number 9 and beyond.

"The Gorge"

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